Pakistan launches special cybercrime unit under controversial PECA law, shifts role from FIA

A man explores social media on a computer at an internet club in Islamabad, Pakistan, on August 11, 2016. (REUTERS/File)
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  • The agency will be led by director general with 15-year experience in digital forensics or public administration
  • Pakistan’s information minister recently spoke against online harassment, emphasized upholding of digital rights

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has established a new investigation unit under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, tasked solely with focusing on cybercrimes in the country, a role previously performed by a dedicated wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

The PECA law was originally enacted to combat various forms of cybercrime, including cyber terrorism, unauthorized access, electronic fraud and online harassment, aiming to enhance the security of cyberspace for users and businesses.

However, the law stirred controversy, particularly because its provisions were seen by critics as tools that could potentially curb freedom of speech and suppress dissent.

These concerns were also validated by instances of journalists being booked under the law, with courts raising objections regarding its application.

“There shall hereby stand established the National Cyber Crime Investigation Agency (NCCIA) to exercise jurisdiction under the Act and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) shall cease to perform functions as designated investigation agency under the Act,” said a notification taken out by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication on April 24 that referred to the PECA law.

“All personnel, cases, inquiries, investigations, assets, liabilities, rights, obligations, privileges and matters related thereto or connected therewith subsisting immediately before commencement of these rules in respect of the defunct cybercrime wing of the FIA shall stand transferred to the NCCIA,” it added.

The new investigation agency will be led by a director general who will be appointed by the government for two years.

The individual performing the role will have at least 15 years of experience “in the field of computer sciences, digital forensics, cyber technology, law, public administration, information technology, telecommunication or related fields enabling him to deal with offenses under the Act.”

The notification said the FIA’s “defunct” cybercrime wing would continue to operate until suitable appointments are made to run the new agency.

Pakistan’s information minister Attaullah Tarar announced only a day ago that the government was setting up a new authority to end online harassment and uphold the digital rights of the people.